You are the owner of this article.
Terms of commitment: Corvallis looks at possible charter review
featured

Terms of commitment: Corvallis looks at possible charter review

{{featured_button_text}}

Charles Maughan has a new job.

Maughan, the Corvallis councilor for Ward 2, has taken a position with the Oregon Housing and Community Services Agency.

Maughan previously worked as the community manager for the Hotel Julian, an affordable housing facility in Corvallis. So the move makes sense. It keeps Maughan in the housing business, which is a key issue in town, and his state work could help inform council initiatives and debates.

It also will keep Maughan out of town a lot. He told the Gazette-Times that he now commutes an hour each way to Salem. And that’s just the drive. Because of the parking challenges in Oregon’s capital Maughan faces a 15-minute walk to and from his office on Summer Street in the Capitol Mall area.

And he also faces the daunting challenge of getting back to Corvallis for two 6 p.m. City Council meetings per month as well as two 4 p.m. work sessions, as well as liaison work on city boards and commissions as well as a high-profile slot on the executive committee of the new Housing Opportunities, Planning and Equity Advisory Board.

Welcome to life as a volunteer elected official. Maughan is by no means alone. Juggling work, family and council business can produce volumes of stress and can lead to councilors leaving office — and potential councilors from not picking up a petition in the first place.

A Corvallis committee consisting of four councilors has been discussing review of the city charter. Possible changes could include longer terms for councilors as well as discussions of mayoral and councilor compensation.

Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber, a retired software executive, receives $100 per month. Councilors are paid nothing. Possible charter tweaks might include upping the mayoral stipend, adding one for councilors or perhaps reimbursing councilors for child-care expenses.

City committee

The committee, which met six times, starting Nov. 15 and concluding Jan. 10 also has considered a wide range of other items. These include filling councilor vacancies, hiring the city manager and annexations. The possible changes were divided into a group that could be enacted immediately and those that might require a task force to vet (see list).

The committee is scheduled to deliver its report to the council at its 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday at the downtown fire station, 400 NW Harrison Blvd. The group, which consists of Jan Napack (Ward 1), Hyatt Lytle (Ward 3), Barbara Bull (Ward 4) and Andrew Struthers (Ward 9), is not making recommendations to the full council of nine. Instead, the charge is to bring forward charter elements that the council might want to consider.

This is how the group framed its 17-page report to the council:

“The Committee asks the Council to provide direction on the next steps for the review and possible amendments to the Charter. Should the Council direct city staff to begin drafting Charter language around the possible immediate actions identified by the Committee? Should the Council direct staff to begin drafting Council Policy changes provided by the Committee? Should the Council direct the creation of one or more community task forces to begin review and recommendation of language for topics provided by the Committee?”

Range of views

Opinions on the topic abound, with the Gazette-Times posing questions for Traber, the nine current councilors, plus former councilors and former Mayor Julie Manning, who worked full-time for Samaritan Health Service during her mayoral tenure. The Gazette-Times inquiry focused mainly on employment and family balance issues and how those challenges affect the current makeup of the council and the willingness of others to run for elected office.

“Could a parent being able to pay for childcare, a student being able to pay tuition, or a full-time worker being able to work part-time, be the difference between them putting their hat in the ring or not? I’d venture to guess yes,” said Zach Baker, who served the 2015-16 term as councilor in Ward 3. Baker, who was a council leader on climate change and the environment during his term, now works on state and local climate policy in Salem at Climate Solutions.

“It is challenging, said Hyatt Lytle, the current Ward 3 councilor who works virtually full time for Grijalva Distribution, which handles Dave’s Killer Bread. “You have to have a strong work ethic and ability to balance the demand of council with other facets of your life. You could get away with doing a minimalist job as a councilor. However, you would not be supporting the rest of your councilors as a team player, and your constituents —whether be it your ward or the community at large.”

Nancy Wyse, who was elected in Ward 6 in 2016 and re-elected in 2018, has served as a stay-at-home mom and now works part-time as an administrative analyst because her two children are in school.

“Being a city councilor is somewhat challenging, but I have developed some routines and strategies that make it easier,” she said. “For example, I use the Good Reader app on my iPad to 'read' the council packets out loud to me when I'm doing dishes or on a long drive. The most challenging part of being a city councilor with children is arranging child care for late afternoon meetings, like our (Thursday afternoon) work session meetings. Most of my city council work happens at night after they go to bed.”

Wyse, like most individuals interviewed for this story, also noted that cooperation from your spouse is essential.

“I couldn’t do what I do without my husband,” he said. “We make a great team.”

Paul Shaffer is new to the council after a special election in November put him on the group from Ward 7 (Bill Glassmire resigned bowed out for health reasons).

“As a retiree, I have plenty of time to spend on council work,” he said. “In November, as I was getting up to speed with meetings and reading, it felt like a full-time job, but it has leveled off since then. I don't really have a good idea of how many hours I am spending on council work in a typical week. I'm trying not to think about it that way.

“I frankly don't know how councilors with a full-time job and young children manage to balance their time and do an effective job with council but they do. I am impressed with their ability to balance three major commitments (work, family, council) and appreciate their efforts.”

Current roster

The current council plus Mayor Traber has a fairly good balance of retirees and workers, with four individuals no longer working and six still on the job.

Roen Hogg, who served four terms in Ward 2, knows the drill from both sides of the fence. When he joined the council in 2011 he worked in Salem for the state of Oregon. He retired from that position at the end of February 2015. He continued to serve through 2018, when he lost a mayoral challenge to Traber.

“For people who are working it’s harder,” Hogg said in a 2015 interview. “They have families to take care of and can’t go to a five- to six-hour meeting. That makes it difficult to find people to serve. Time is your most precious thing. You can never get time back.”

But Hogg also noted the importance of having people who are employed in the council mix.

“People who work bring a different perspective,” he said. “They have insights on issues such as child care and saving to put kids through college. It’s valuable to have all that experience.”

One of the roles that Napack, who is retired, filled on the charter committee was to research what the statewide numbers show on elected city officials. Working with the League of Oregon Cities Napack found that:

• 55% are over 60 years old.

• 48% are retired

• 56% are male and 44% are female

• 95% are white (note this also includes Hispanics)

• The officials spend an average of 13 hours per week on city business.

Corvallis is close to fitting the mold.

Age-wise three (Lytle, Wyse and Struthers) are in the 30-45 range, four are in the 45-60 range (Junkins, Bull, Ward 5's Charlyn Ellis and Maughan) and three are older than 60 (Traber, Napack and Shaffer). And as noted above four of the 10 are retired.

Napack offered strong praise for the ability of her working colleagues to do the juggling act.

"Difficult," she said "if I was working and had kids at home? I spent many years burning the candle at both ends (5 acres, family with two kids, various animals, challenging career, volunteering, socializing, grocery shopping at 10:30 p.m. Sunday nights) and I’m amazed at how impossible it all seems now. Being young has its good points ... not knowing your physical limits is one of them. I would never say that someone with kids and a career could not do this. Crazy perhaps!"

Diversity numbers

Where the city has made excellent progress in recent years is in diversity. The council and mayor elected in 2010 included Mayor Manning and Ward 7’s Jeanne Raymond as the lone women. The current council has five women, with Lytle (council president) and Wyse (council vice-president) both serving in leadership roles.

When Mark Page was elected in Ward 8 in 2016 he became just the third African-American to serve on the council and the first since 1990. Page was succeeded by Ed Junkins, another African-American.

Junkins, an associate dean at COMP-Northwest in Lebanon, was upfront about backing a possible charter move from two-year terms to four-year terms, one of the key issues the charter committee has been looking at. The danger of two years lies with the fact that, although unlikely, the entire council could turn over in one election, with tons of institutional knowledge going out the window.

“I agree with the moving the term to four years,” said Junkins, who also has served on the Corvallis School Board, which has four-year terms. “The thought of adding hours of campaigning on top of my current schedule is enough to make me rethink running again after two years.”

Junkins also noted that in additional to council work he sits on five boards.

Physical therapist Frank Hann, who served the term before Page in Ward 8, also noted the challenge of commitments beyond the council meetings.

’I enjoyed immensely my time on council and considered it a wonderful learning experience,” Hann said, “(but) there were weeks in which I attended six meetings of council and as liaison to a variety of advisory groups or associated organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce. Those weeks could require 20 hours of more of work outside of my normal family and business responsibilities.

“I honestly wanted to run and serve for another term but when I looked ahead at the next year, I had a daughter's wedding (which turned into two daughters' weddings), a college graduation and anticipating my wife having knee replacements. Given all of that, I could not honestly determine that I would be able to give council the time and attention it deserves.”

Compensation

Those interviewed were divided on the question of compensation for councilors or for increasing that of the mayor.

“One could argue that having city councilors paid as if they were full-time councilors would make things easier for anyone holding the position,“ said Struthers, who works full time for Oregon State University in information technology. “However, I would not advocate for this as I personally like the idea of volunteer councilors. It would be helpful at times to have a small stipend for things like child care or other minor expenses one may incur.”

Shaffer agreed on the stipend model.

“We all have at least some out-of-pocket expenses (mileage, child care in some cases, coffee while meeting with constituents, etc.), and offsetting those tangible costs is fair and reasonable,” he said.

*I said in the first debate last fall that I was not in favor of paying city councilors, and I hold to that position. One of the arguments is that unless councilors are paid, only retirees have the time to be on council. The current make-up of the council, in terms of the age and careers of council members, refutes that argument.”

Bull, who does not work, noted that there might be other ways of making councilors more effective besides paying them.

She cited committee testimony from former Ward 1 Councilor Penny York, whose community project on charter reform helped lead to the current committee work. York noted that when she was living and working in Pasadena, California, councilors were not paid, but they each had a 0.75 FTE assistant.

Bull added that issuing laptops to councilors instead of iPads, offering them office space and staff assistance on researching city documents and archives, helping with schedules, meeting agendas, project updates and drafting letters to constituents also could be helpful additions.

“It is the 21st Century and if we want diversity in government of all ages, then looking at some type of stipend system is realistic," said Lytle, who noted that most of Oregon's largest cities  "provide some type of compensation for their councilors. It does not need to be exorbitant, it just needs to be something to say ‘your time matters, the time that you invest in this is important.’

"It also speaks to being taken seriously. If we want the council to be more diverse then we need to look at a model that can accommodate those who cannot invest 20-plus hours a week to council demands without it affecting their livelihoods.”

No challengers

One challenge that remains for the committee, the council and the city is to increase the sheer number of community members interested in running for office.

In the five council elections from 2010 to 2018, 23 council races featured unopposed candidates, with 2012 having six such races and 2014 and 2016 five apiece. Yes, there often can be political reasons for a one-person race; Hal Brauner, one of the most effective councilors in recent times, ran unopposed nine times. But a fuller ballot is hard to argue against.

Most recently, however, Shaffer and four other candidates competed in November to replace Glassmire in Ward 7 in the most full council ballot this century.

“I have actually been impressed by the number of individuals who seek local elective office in our community, given the time and dedication it takes,” former Mayor Manning said. “I believe this interest reflects the high level of public engagement local residents have in how our government operates and serves the community.

"People care about what happens here, and they are willing to get involved. My experience in talking with other mayors is that Corvallis’ high level of public engagement fuels a more participatory style of government that requires a relatively large time commitment from elected officials and staff.”

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

0
0
0
0
0

Get Government & Politics updates in your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alert

Breaking News